Discord over progress reports

The first marking period of the school year has come and gone, but the conflicts surrounding the Baltimore County school system's initiative to provide parents more detailed progress reports persist.

The teachers union continues to oppose it, maintaining that preparing the reports will add to their already overflowing plates.


School board members appear divided, so much so that one member who says the panel should get to vote on whether the program is used recently filed a formal statement demanding that the board include the matter on its meeting agenda - a step he took after members voted against doing so during a meeting last month.

And some have questioned the fact that the school system administrator who created the progress report holds a copyright to it.


Barbara Dezmon, assistant to the superintendent for equity and assurance, said she developed it on her own time during the past 18 years, and is allowing all of Maryland's school systems to use it without charge.

"I wanted to prevent it from being dumbed down in the future," Dezmon said in a recent interview. "The only way to do that was to maintain a copyright and see that the program remains intact. The very place where I could've made a profit - in Maryland - I gave it for free."

The progress report is expected to be among a range of topics, including possible changes to the traditional report card, discussed during a board work session with school officials tonight at school system headquarters in Towson. The school board does not take formal action at work sessions.

Under the program, called the Articulated Instruction Module, or AIM, a teacher gives each student ratings every nine weeks on a series of knowledge and skill indicators for each course.

AIM reports - which are intended to be issued in addition to regular report cards - are designed to specify whether a child can, for instance, convert fractions to decimals. Until a skill is mastered, an entry for it follows a student from grade to grade.

County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston announced last summer that teachers countywide could start using AIM voluntarily. However, so far this school year, only teachers at Woodlawn Middle and Powhatan, Hebbville, Woodmoor and Featherbed elementaries - schools that used the rating system as part of a pilot program - have used it. Dezmon said that is because of delays in computerizing the checklists.

Dezmon, a former English teacher, said the idea for AIM grew from her efforts to better communicate with parents, especially parents of minority children. She said she also wanted to address what she saw as a growing problem: too many children receiving a lesser education than others.

"Not all children are being held to the same expectations, and they're trapped in a cycle of remediation," she said. The teachers union "talks about the burden of AIM on adults in the school system, but that pales in comparison to the burden on children, parents and the citizens of this county when students are not well-educated."


AIM is also designed to provide a structure for school officials to follow as they respond to key criticisms in an independent audit released this year that found major flaws in the school system's educational plan.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, has steadfastly opposed adding AIM to teachers' duties and questions Dezmon's copyright. She said AIM belongs to the school system, saying it was created on county time.

School system policy states that "a work created by an employee within the scope of his/her employment in Baltimore County Public Schools is a work made for hire. Baltimore County Public Schools are the initial owner of all the rights of the copyright in the work unless a prior written agreement is signed by both parties."

Dezmon said AIM is her intellectual property and that she signed an agreement with the system that was drafted by two law firms - including one that normally represents the school board - to allow the county to computerize the progress reporting program.

She also said that because she does not work in the curriculum office, developing AIM is not within the scope of her employment.

Dezmon said she created AIM in the evenings at home. She said two of the schools' technology employees have been involved only during the past year to help computerize AIM, and Woodlawn-area teachers piloted it.


But at least one school board member, Rodger Janssen, has insisted that AIM must be approved by the board before schools can use it. Schools officials say the board has no such authority.

At the Nov. 6 meeting, Janssen sought to add AIM to the agenda, but was voted down 6-4. In a written statement added to the meeting's minutes, he wrote that board policy requires the panel to approve programs such as AIM.

"That policy was designed, in part, to insure that system resources of consequence were to be expended only after board approval," he wrote. "A significant number of our teachers and staff were engaged over an extended period of time, and at board expense, in the development of AIM, in training in its use, in piloting it, in preparing the electronic version of AIM."

Several groups, including the state branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, have endorsed AIM. Last month, the NAACP passed a resolution to encourage all Maryland school systems to use it and suggested it be added to state education law.

But teachers need fewer new tasks, Bost said.

"We believe [the school system] needs to find a way to reduce the amount of data collection requirements, the amount of testing, and figure out how to streamline the multiple processes already in place," she said.